Thunder Bay Film Festival Showcases Water Themes

Event marks 20th anniversary of Congress' creation of national marine sanctuary

In what has become a cherished Great Lakes community event, the eighth annual Thunder Bay International Film Festival will take place in Alpena, Michigan, January 22-26, 2020.

Organized by Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the festival’s offerings span a range of films—from a local student competition, to Great Lakes subjects, to selections from the International Ocean Film Festival.

The far-reaching subjects attract filmmakers from great distances. 

“It’s an opportunity to promote the Sanctuary around the world,” says Stephanie Gandulla, research coordinator for the sanctuary and organizer of the festival.

With 16 sessions, the Thunder Bay International Film Festival includes more than 50 films. In addition to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, films will be shown in Harrisville (at the Alcona County Library) and at the Rogers City Theater.

Great Lakes films at the festival include features on Great Lakes surfing, paddle boarders crossing Lake Erie, a mini-documentary on the restoration of the Raisin River, stories of Michigan’s fishery heritage, and programs produced by Detroit Public Television.

Ocean topics include gray sharks, baby beluga whales, and marathon swimming. Those films address important issues such as climate change, overfishing, and endangered species.

This is the fifth year that the festival also features a student competition. Last year, junior high and high school students submitted almost 100 videos of five minutes, or less, in length. 

“The technological skill level of the students is impressive,” Gandulla says. This year’s student theme is “The Great Lakes Are …”

The film festival has become a favorite event in northern Michigan, attracting hundreds of locals and visitors to sample the cinematic wares. After it was launched on a shoestring budget in 2013, the festival now turns a modest profit that is donated to support the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which in turn educates the public and conducts activities in support of the sanctuary.

A pass to view all films costs $100. Entrance to individual films costs $6 each. The festival coincides with the 20th anniversary year of the creation of the national marine sanctuary through an act of Congress.

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Event marks 20th anniversary of Congress' creation of national marine sanctuary